FRANK McGarvey may seem an unlikely source of inspiration for Rangers to tap into ahead of Sunday’s Old Firm showdown at Hampden.
But it is the example of the former Celtic striker to which Rangers caretaker manager Kenny McDowall turns as he tries to plot an upset victory for the embattled Ibrox club.
The finest day of McDowall’s playing career came at the national stadium back in 1987 when he helped St Mirren defeat Dundee United in the Scottish Cup final. His strike partner that afternoon was McGarvey, a man who, by then, had already won every major honour as a Celtic player.
“I will never forget Frank’s words before the final,” recalled McDowall.
“He said to every one of us that we should enjoy the moment because cup finals don’t come along every day – you always think you have a chance of winning a cup, but they are very few and far between. He was so right.
“So I am sure some of our more experienced players at Rangers just now – guys like Kenny Miller, Lee McCulloch and Jon Daly – will appreciate that, with where they are in their careers, it could be their last chance to go on and win a bit of silverware in terms of cups. They would probably appreciate it more now, being the ages they are.
“This is a semi-final and the players will want to win it for themselves. That’s it in a nutshell. There is a cup final appearance at stake. It’s a massive game for a lot of our boys who haven’t played against Celtic before but even the ones who have know the importance of the game.
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“You have got to want to get to a cup final. It is the best thing in your life in your job as a footballer, to go and try to win a cup.”
With almost universal agreement that the gulf between Celtic and Rangers has never been greater in the history of the Old Firm fixture, many are predicting a comfortable victory for the Scottish champions on Sunday.
McDowall accepts his team’s status as huge underdogs but takes encouragement from their victories over Premiership sides St Johnstone, Inverness and Kilmarnock in cup ties earlier this season.
“It’s a one-off game and, so far, we have done well against the top-flight teams in the cup competitions and we’re looking forward to Sunday’s game,” he said.
“I don’t know if it would be the biggest Old Firm shock if we won, I’d need to go back and check it. I’d be delighted if it happens. It would be a great achievement for us to win it.
“It would be obviously a big one, but we have every chance. We’re not writing ourselves off but we know Celtic are favourites. They are a very good side. We know, to win the tie, we’re going to have to play well and we’re also going to have to carry luck. I think you need all these factors. It’s the semi-final of a cup and it’s a tough game because you are so close to getting to a final, but you can easily be so far away.”
Asked if Rangers’ best chance of success lay in deploying an ultra-defensive strategy, or whether they would attempt to engage Celtic in a more open contest, McDowall was deliberately ambiguous.
“We can do whatever we choose to do,” he replied. “At this point in the proceedings I’m not giving anything away in terms of that, I’ll keep that stuff close to my chest in terms of how I’m going to set things up. But I have the option to do both.
“I am looking forward to it now. It’s a couple of days away now so we’re well into our preparation and looking forward to it immensely.
“You know it’s a different week from any other game. Everything that surrounds it makes it different, obviously. But you just get on with your work and carry on and try to make it as normal as you can for the players. But we all know it’s different.
“The players are absolutely up for it. They have been great so far this week. We still have a couple of sessions to go so, fingers crossed, we just keep it going.”
Rangers have not played a full 90 minutes for three weeks, their home game against Hearts being abandoned after just 24 minutes before last Saturday’s trip to Cowdenbeath was postponed. But McDowall does not believe that will have any significant effect.
“Not really,” he said. “At this stage in the season they are as fit as they’re going to be.
“We’ve had a couple of hard sessions as well. We came back to Murray Park on Saturday when the game got cancelled and we started at half-two so we did a fair session on Saturday afternoon. They have worked hard. They’ll be fine.
“Training has been purely routine. As we get towards the end of the week, we will do some tactical stuff but the fitness stuff has just been normal.”
But despite the circumstances which have led to him taking charge on Sunday, McDowall does not attempt to play down the personal significance of the occasion.
“Listen, it is massive,” he said. “I have been involved in enough Old Firm games to know how important it is. To be in my position is a great honour for me.
“To lead Rangers into a semi-final is great. I just want the result to go my way. We will see where we go from there.”